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Conflict is Inevitable With Persistent Resistance to Change

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headinhands

Resistance is experienced in most teams as they struggle with the concept of change. The purpose of creating teams is to tackle difficult issues and tough organizational problems. Invariably, the resulting solutions teams develop result in active transformations that disrupt the status quo and personal agendas, which also tends to remove personal positions of power. Consequently, there is a natural tendency for individual team members to resist pending changes.

The main challenge in leading teams is to allow the full complexity of individual personalities, talents, qualities and insights to emerge. These must be actively harnessed in order to achieve major team objectives.

While it is easy to set limits on verbal expressions and behaviors, doing so severely diminishes overall team potential and performance. Since various personality traits of individual members actively shape their general and immediate focus and perspectives, leaders who understand them are able to estimate their direct responses to change. Ultimately, with this related knowledge and understanding, they should be able to anticipate and minimize overall team member resistance. And they should be able to demonstrate that resistance results from differing perspectives that can be reconciled with the objectives of the entire team.

Resistance is an instinctive and energetic opposition to new ideas or someone’s expressed wishes to do something differently. If individual team members persist in their resistance, conflict becomes inevitable. Often resistance is framed as a struggle for control or as a problem that has been eliminated. The lines of conflict are often quickly drawn. Therefore, it is important for leaders to understand the concepts of resistance and conflict within their team environments and to learn how to harness and control them.

Avoidance of Conflict

Conflict should not be seen as something to be resolved, but as an experience to be explored. Opposing views in regard to team direction and change are never totally unrelated and can have great value when considered “different parts of the same story.” Leaders will often find that resistance and conflict are consistently initiated by many of the same individuals on their teams as a result of their inherent personality traits.

Avoidance of conflict either drains interest, enthusiasm and trust or results in concealed tension, internal fighting and impaired team performance. While some leaders meet resistance head on, others often do everything possible to avoid the attached conflicts. Rather than keep conflicts from erupting, avoidance causes increasing internal team resistance. It is extremely important to keep in mind that appeasement in order to diminish conflict is not effective, and instead creates a host of additional challenges to overcome.

Denial of Conflict

When leaders propose change and team members feign agreement, the actual degree of resistance can be immense. This often occurs when teams have strong norms, where dissention and negative views are rarely tolerated and expressed. The core of resistance lies with a particular side of the team or with individual leaders that no one is fully prepared to address or discuss.

While the denial of conflict might be considered a normal process within many team environments, it more often than not builds to the point of erupting into a far more serious problem. Therefore, when active resistance is initially encountered, leaders must ensure that conflicts within their team environments are not denied, but adequately addressed and worked through.

Anxiety

Avoidance and denial of conflict are rooted in personal anxiety. Oftentimes, members can be intimidated by their team environments, their lack of seniority and/or experience, or their own inherent personalities. The concept of change also frightens many people due to associated fears of the unknown and feelings about how change will personally and directly affect them.

It is important for leaders to recognize these factors and the subsequent anxieties that may be created within their team environments. These factors need to be identified and openly and fully discussed. Leaders must address the consequences of allowing anxieties to take root in order to diminish individual fear factors that tend to create undue apprehension, nervousness or panic. Once these issues are addressed and individuals fully understand the root causes and the impact these factors have on their team, personal anxieties will dissolve. When this is accomplished, individual stress levels are reduced.

Addressing the Concept of Change

In team environments there will always be members who desire change and members who wish to keep the status quo. Both of these positions give insight into what members perceive to be the true needs of their team. To ensure that insights are not lost, leaders need to ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is currently happening to and within the team?
  • What force for change is directly impacting the team?
  • Within the team, what counterbalancing forces seek to minimize change?

When leaders are able to identify these factors, both positions are respected, and those who resist change can be viewed as the guardians of the team’s traditional norms and beliefs.

Viewing Resistance as a Strength

Rather than something that must be actively overcome, leaders should be aware that resistance deserves respect for its ability to help teams discover how to change. Since resistance is characterized as a mobilization of energy, leaders must learn how to channel it in positive ways. Resistance should be viewed as a healthy and creative force that can be applied to effectively meet individual challenges. It can be used to frame problems and issues in new ways that all individual team members can appreciate and respect. The team process can be used to work through complex issues, tackle difficult problems and their attached implications and ramifications, and arrive at a consensus in regard to the most workable, practical and effective solutions.

Related:

Is Conflict Destructive to Your Organization?

The Challenge of Handling Conflict

When the Process of Change Spins Out of Control

Conflict Turns Decision Making Upside Down

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Should Accountability Be a Primary Priority?

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womenspeaking

Today it seems that much of what we hear focuses on a lack of accountability. It resonates inside business practices as well as being far reaching in the character of influential people within our political environment, cultural role models and those responsible for influencing and teaching our children. Accountability is an important topic to consider, especially in business today. After all, a lack of accountability in the workplace does produce both intended and unintended consequences that can affect so many people in a brief amount time.

The choices we make and the paths we choose to take all come with associated levels of accountability and accompanied consequences. Many in the business setting tend to have extremely higher stakes and risks. The question is; “Should accountability be a number one priority in today’s business climate?”

Basic Definition of Accountability

The basic definition of accountability can be simply defined. It is being answerable to others.  In the work environment as managers and leaders, it is important for several reasons. Accountability is the means for applying checks and balances. These protect companies from internal and external vulnerabilities and competitive disadvantages. It enhances fairness for employees and limits disruptions and frustrations that slow their efforts and personal growth. Through accountability, everyone can be given the opportunity to share their ideas, motivate and encourage those around them. Perhaps it is time to look at accountability as a “positive business relationship factor” rather than a “judgment that defines individual progress and potential”.

Personal Accountability

Accountability inside the workplace needs to be considered as a positive principle to embrace. It motivates each of us to do our best. It presses us to be better managers of the time, talents, responsibilities and resources that have been awarded us to oversee. If it were not for being answerable to someone else, it would likely become a much more difficult task to foster personal growth and to become better at what we do along the way. Nothing hampers individual promotions and work relationships more than a lack of personal accountability, or the desire for it. If you look around and give it careful consideration, you will probably notice that most divisions and derisions within departments or work units can be directly traced back to issues of little to no accountability in regard to one or more people.

Why Many Will Openly or Silently Resist Accountability?

Being in a leadership position requires the knowledge of understanding why many employees and even peers will openly or silently resist accountability. It may be wise to formally address them as part of your company expectations or workplace standards reinforcement activities.

Some Employees Have an Aversion to Accountability 

They are inwardly or even at times outwardly rebellious to authority. They sometimes feel they know better than someone else, and will refuse to adhere to any rules or suggestions that they have had no input or say into their development or implementation.

Some Employees May Be Simply Lazy and Non-Performance Driven

Accountability interferes with the ability to continue in their comfort zones fordoing what they feel they want to do, when they desire to do it.

Some Employees May Fear the Loss of Their Jobs or Positions

Accountability implies a disclosure of their negative performance in areas where they may be compared to others, where positive outcomes will become undermined or overlooked.

Some Employees May Not Trust Their Mangers or Supervisors

They refuse to believe the accountability criteria they set will be fair, or feel it will be used appropriately.

Pride or Ego Highly Contributes to the Erosion and Resistance to Accountability

Some individuals believe that the means of their own personal feelings and belief system will forever tend to justify the ends and outcomes they wish to produce. Actions of accountability and support of everyone’s interests are not a necessary part of the process for getting something accomplished. These individuals usually feel they are above the need to display qualities of corporate responsibility, while being held to the same standards as everyone else.

Accountability Stimulates Individuals Do Their Very Best

These are sobering days for any business and especially those that function within them. Character, high standards for staying on course, upholding personal convictions, promoting truthful words and unwavering actions while displaying high levels of responsibility, are all an integral part of accountability.

While it is true that everyone is probably forced to do more with less, accountability needs to become a two way street. A buy-in to accountability can make a huge difference. Work relationships generally become stronger.  Responsibility becomes part of the company culture. Paths to individual success, progress and promotion are opened up. Corporate stability is sustained, which in turn allows for greater future growth and individual prosperity. Trust within the workplace is greatly enhanced. Loyalty increases.

For multiple reasons, accountability stimulates individuals do their best, versus doing only what is needed to get by. In the end accountability will ensure that all workers will begin to hold each other to set standards, and because of it, increase pride and more positive workplace attitudes. Individuals taking advantage of circumstances and situations tend to become far fewer. Challenges can be addressed and solved without the accompaniment of intimidation and fear. By placing accountability as a number one priority, there will be far fewer challenges to overcome but more privileges, promotions and positive rewards to offer.

Related:

Supporting Employees’ Need to Achieve Maximum Results

Assessing Employee Growth and Development

Nine Rules for Coaching Your Employees

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Five Reasons Why Team Communications Can Deteriorate

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groupconflict

Since leaders are dealing with individual personalities in the team environment, it is unrealistic to expect that communication will never break down. Even within the most effective and efficient team environment, issues and situations will arise that will cause an entire breakdown of team communication.

The breakdown of communication in the team environment often occurs when trust and respect are diminished or ignored by individual team members. Breakdowns also occur when chronic conflict has not been resolved within the team.

Another source of communication breakdown is when team members feel their personal interests are stronger than the needs and identity of the team. These individuals are motivated by their personal desires and will do anything to achieve them, including disrupting the team environment.

It is important for leaders to recognize that communication breakdowns will occur within the team environment. In the early stages of team growth, communication problems and breakdowns are more frequent, as individuals struggle to obtain position and retain power in a new and changing environment. However, in more mature and structured teams, leaders will find that the team itself will deal with the communication problem according to its defined boundaries, rules and standards.

Leaders should be aware that a breakdown in communication can have long-term ramifications on the structure and effectiveness of the team. Therefore, it is important for them to recognize potential problems and the symptoms in order to anticipate issues, such as those discussed below, before they occur.

Loss of Trust and Respect

If leaders allow problems to fester and lead to a breakdown of team communication, they will experience a corresponding breakdown of trust and respect among team members that can be difficult, if not impossible, to restore. These circumstances can be fatal to the team and might require the formation of a new team in order to overcome them. Broken trust requires prolonged periods of time to be reestablished. Leaders need to be aware of this and take appropriate action to reduce the occurrence of chronic problems that can result in the loss of trust and respect among team members.

Hindered Free-Flow of Ideas

Once communication has broken down among team members, leaders will observe that discussions become more emotional and subjective rather than objective and factual. When discussions are based on emotion rather than fact, brainstorming will diminish to the point that there is no free-flow of ideas among team members. This effectively halts the team process until the issues causing the breakdowns are dealt with.

Intimidation

Leaders who experience a breakdown of communication observe that certain members will attempt to take control of the team process, subjugating the team to their personal agendas and perspectives. Once done, these individuals will use emotional responses to intimidate other team members into accepting their points of view. This is where the bonds of trust and respect among team members can be broken. The communication breakdown destroys the team structure and subjects it to the will of one or more members.

Bias

Once the breakdown of communication has led to the destruction of the team order by one or more team members, a specific bias is created that supports the personal agendas of these individuals. When members allow the team process to be subverted by particular individuals, they undermine the entire team effort.

Faulty Decision Making

The breakdown of communication in the team environment inevitably leads to faulty decision making. Specific biases that hinder the free-flow of ideas prevent teams from considering all options and alternatives when making decisions. Consequently, decisions are impacted by the biases of the specific individuals controlling the team. In these circumstances, decision making and outcomes will be flawed.

Individuals who have hijacked the team process will use the team environment as a cover to mask their activities when decisions produce faulty results. As they do not want to be held accountable for their behaviors and actions, they will place blame for the decision on the team environment.

Excerpt: Boosting Team Communication: Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Related:
 
How Personal Agendas Can Destroy a TeamThe Use of Teams Requires Self-Discipline

When Performance Lags, Look to the Team Culture

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Mistakes as a Source of Innovation

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos  Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Effective leaders adhered to an unalterable expectation that mistakes and failure need to be an acceptable part of the process of innovation. They opposed “zero tolerance for mistakes” policies, many of which are still being practiced in many companies today. They considered these to be hindrances to innovation.

“It’s easy to believe that Jeff Bezos is one of the great innovators. But that’s not exactly the case. His rise into Fortune 500-dom actually has little to do with innovation and more to do with iteration. If anything, Amazon demonstrates how a cutting-edge Internet company – of all things – can succeed slowly. The trick is taking a million tiny steps – and quickly learning from your missteps.” [1]

The mega-inventors of the 19th Century are also prime examples of this philosophy. “[George] Westinghouse (Westinghouse) built on his engineering skills, learning how to design and evaluate industrial trials. Time after time he turned trial failures into commercial successes. Even his competitors hailed his problem solving skills…” [2] “[Thomas] Edison (Edison Electric) viewed even disasters as an opportunity for learning. On one occasion his lab stove went out in the dead of winter, causing an assortment of expensive chemicals to freeze. On another occasion unprotected chemicals were damaged by sunlight. Instead of bemoaning the losses, Edison put aside all other projects to catalogue changes in the properties of the bottled substances… ‘He knew how to turn lemons into lemonade.’[3]

Walt Disney (Disney) took a proactive approach toward mistakes. “Walt found a way to push improvement without laying blame. [He] take(s) a look at what [someone says]… not glossing over a problem with the gag. He implicitly acknowledges it could be better. But rather than indulge an employee’s criticism of another worker, he demands a positive, forward-thinking attitude – ‘what we can do to make it better…’ Walt kept employees engaged and contributing by not shooting down suggestions, but instead steering employees toward improving their ideas… Walt’s approach to suggestions as the difference between responding ‘Yes, if…’ or ‘No, because…’ [4]

As Sam Walton grew Wal-Mart into a retailing giant, he realized that “not all of his ideas worked. The minnow buckets didn’t sell. People in Wisconsin didn’t go for his Moon Pies. But when he saw he was wrong, he admitted his mistake and went on to try something else. And he wanted his associates to be the same way. He’d get them together on Saturday mornings to share their success and admit their failures. That culture of candor produced a great environment to capture ideas. It helped that he had ‘very little capacity for embarrassment.’[5]


[1]  Quittner Josh, The Charming Life of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Fortune Magazine, April 15, 2008)

[2]  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 61

[3]  McAuliffe Kathleen, The Undiscovered World of Thomas Edison (Atlantic Magazine, December 1995)

[4]  Niles Robert, Disney Legends Recall Walt Disney and the ‘Yes, It…. Way of Management (Theme Park Insider, November 19, 2009)

[5]  Walton Sam Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2012)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Productive Response to Failure

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Fred Smith - Founder and CEO of FEDEX

Fred Smith – Founder and CEO of FEDEX

The great and influential leaders were no strangers to failure. My research illustrates that most experienced levels of failure and adversity that would compel typical individuals to pack their bags and quit in frustration and disappointment. The levels of success they achieved did not come easily, but from persistence. Their personal levels of perseverance and self-reliance are what realistically defined them. Most viewed failure as a learning experience, rather than a defining event. Fred Smith (FedEx) observed, “Just because an idea isn’t implemented or doesn’t work out doesn’t mean that a person has failed.” [1]

Early in his career at Johnson & Johnson, General Robert Wood Johnson taught James Burke a valuable lesson about failure. “Shortly after he arrived at J&J in 1953 as a product director after three years at Procter & Gamble, Burke attempted to market several over-the-counter medicines for children. They all failed-and he was called in for a meeting with the chairman.

‘I assumed I was going to be fired,’ Burke recalls. ‘But instead, Johnson told me, ‘Business is all about making decisions, and you don’t make decisions without making mistakes. Don’t make that mistake again, but please be sure you make others.’”[2]

In 2001, John Chambers (Cisco) saw his company’s revenues and stock price fall off the cliff during the tech and telecom busts. He was challenged with the reality of massive and likely fatal failure. “Within days of realizing Cisco was crashing, Chambers leapt into trying to fix it. ‘He never dwelled on it,’ says Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM (IBM) … ‘John kept the company focused. He said this is where we are, and he drove the company forward.’

He reached out to [Jack] Welch (General Electric) and a handful of other CEOs. They told him that sudden downturns always take companies by surprise, ‘so I should quit beating myself up for being surprised,’ Chambers recalls. He did. Chambers decided that the free fall had been beyond his control. He now wraps it up in an analogy he retells time and again, likening the crash to a disastrous flood: It rarely happens, but when it does, there’s nothing you can do to stop it… Those other CEOs also told Chambers to figure out how bad it was going to get, take all the harsh action necessary to get through it and plan for the eventual upturn.” [3]

David Packard (Hewlett-Packard) faced failure and adversity in a gruff and straightforward manner. “When he returned to HP in the early 1970s after his stint as deputy secretary of defense and found the company on the verge of borrowing $100 million to cover a cash-flow shortage, he immediately met with employees and gave them what came to be known as a ‘Dave Gives ‘Em Hell’ speech. Packard lined up the division managers in front of employees and told them, ‘If they don’t get inventories under control, they’re not going to be your managers for very long.’ Within six months, the company once again had positive cash flow, to the tune of $40 million.” [4]

John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) advised, “‘Look ahead… Be sure that you are not deceiving yourself at any time about actual conditions.’ He notes that when a business begins to fail, most men hate ‘to study the books and face the truth.” [5]

[1] Federal Express’s Fred Smith (Inc. Magazine, October 1, 1986)
[2] Alumni Achievement Awards: James E. Burke (Harvard Business School, 2003)
[3] Maney Kevin, Chambers, Cisco Born Again (USA Today, January 21, 2004)
[4] O’Hanlon Charlene, David Packard: High-Tech Visionary (CRN, November 8, 2000)
[5] Baida Peter, Rockefeller Remembers (American Heritage Magazine, September/October 1988, Volume 39, Issue 6)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

You Don’t Choose Your Passions, Your Passions Choose You

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Jeff Bezos - Amazon.com

Jeff Bezos – Amazon.com

Great leaders are passionate. They possess an absolute love for what they do. Steve Jobs (Apple Computer) observed, “I don’t think of my life as a career… I do stuff. I respond to stuff. That’s not a career — it’s a life!” [1] Howard Schultz (Starbucks) concurred when he said: When you love something, when you care so much, when you feel the responsibility… you find another gear.”

James Duke (American Tobacco Company) enthusiastically expressed his passion, when he noted, “I hated to close my desk at night and was eager to get back to it early next morning. I needed no vacation or time off. No fellow does who is really interested in his work.” [2]

Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) couldn’t say enough about his fifteen-cent hamburgers, and Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) was equally passionate about the value that Wal-Mart offered to the average person. Both were evangelists for their companies.

Another passionate evangelist was James Casey (United Parcel Service), as anyone who knew him understood that “it just took the right topic to get him excited. And that topic was packages. He loved everything about them–the care that went into their wrapping, the sense of mystery about their contents, the delight in opening them. A 1947 New Yorker profile found him observing a department store’s package-wrapping station and waxing enthusiastic–and then some–on the proceedings: ‘Deft fingers! Deft fingers wrapping thousands of bundles. Neatly tied! Neatly addressed! Stuffed with soft tissue paper! What a treat! Ah, packages!’ ” [3]

Why is passion so important and why does it contribute so much to one’s success? “Passion is about our emotional energy and a love for what we do. Without passion it becomes difficult to fight back in the face of obstacles and difficulties. People with passion find a way to get things done and to make things happen, in spite of the obstacles and challenges that get in the way.” [4]

Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) stressed the importance of passion when he stated, “When we talk to other people about Southwest Airlines, I always tell them that it’s got to come from the heart not from the head. It has to be spontaneous, it has to be sincere, it has to be emotional. I said, ‘Nobody will believe it if they think it’s just another program that was conjured up for six months time and then you’re going to drop it. The power of it in creating trust is that people have to see that you really radiate, that it’s a passion with you, and you’re not saying these things because you think they are clever or a way to produce more productivity or produce greater profits, but because you really want things to go well for them, individually.” [5]

Jeff Bezos (Amazon) made the following observation about how passion works, and why it motivates so well. “You don’t choose your passions, your passions choose you… One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. If you’re really interested in software and computer science, you should focus on that. But if you’re really interested in medicine, and you decide you’re going to become an Internet entrepreneur because it looks like everybody else is doing well, then that’s probably not going to work. You don’t choose your passions, your passions choose you. One of the reasons you saw so many companies that were formed in 1998 or 1999 fail is that they were chasing the wave. And that usually doesn’t work. Find that area that you are interested in and passionate about—and wait for the wave to find you.” [6]

[1]  Fry Stephen, The iPad Launch: Can Steve Jobs Do It Again? (Time Magazine, April 1, 2010)

[2]  Klein Maury, The Change Makers (Henry Holt and Company, LLC, New York, NY 2003) p. 99-100

[3]  Lukas Paul, Overfelt Maggie, UPS United Parcel Service James Casey Transformed a Tiny Messenger Service into the World’s Largest Shipper By Getting All Wrapped Up in the Details of Package Delivery (Fortune Small Business, April 1, 2003)

[4]  Ambler George, Steve Jobs and His Leadership (The Practice of Leadership, March 30, 2008)

[5]  Yeh Raymond T. with Yeh Stephanie H., The Art of Business: In the Footsteps of Giants (published October 1, 2004)

[6]  Walker Rob, Jeff Bezos Amazon.com – America’s 25 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs (Inc. Magazine, April 1, 2004)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Leaders Are Judged By The Actions They Take

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Kelleher--William-Thomas-Cain-Getty-Images

Of all the leaders surveyed, the great ones were individuals who consistently displayed their integrity and character. No matter what happened in their lives: adversity, controversies, failure and defeat, their character shined through. It established deep personal credibility with each of their constituencies, as well as all others that came into contact with them.

First and foremost, leaders are judged by the actions they take. Today’s high profile leaders are prominently visible to all of their key constituencies. They make speeches and presentations to employees, shareholders, financial analysts, and the public in general.

Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) exemplifies this. “He’s totally true to himself and totally consistent between his private life and his public life. He’s totally consistent between his public speeches and his private speeches. You could look at a speech that Herb gave to the annual shareholders meeting of 2002 and compare it to his message to the field in 1992 and compare it to a letter to employees in 1982 and find tremendous consistency in terms of adherence to core values.

So the absolute adherence to extraordinarily high professional principles of ethical conduct and fair dealing, is just remarkable over time. So he built up a reservoir of credibility not only among employees but other people.”[1]

Many leaders may sound impressive, but simultaneously undermine their credibility since their actions fail to mirror their words. In some instances, leaders’ actions contradict their company’s mission statement, resulting in confusion within their organization. In either case, their personal actions become corrosive to the organizational culture, as well as their own individual credibility.

As a high profile leader, Carly Fiorina’s (Hewlett Packard) actions were highly scruntized and undermined her credibility. “Fiorina came in with a mandate of change, but didn’t make any effort to build trust between herself and the company. Indeed, she sullied her image by exalting herself without regard to her employees’ reactions.

Buying a personal jet in front of a distrustful and alienated workforce is one example. Freezing employee salaries while giving herself and her executive ilk bonuses is another. Doing these things in light of nearly 18,000 employee dismissals (2003) is just plain callous.”[2]

Leaders’ actions set the tone for their organization, whether they realize it or not. They can either inspire or generate resentment in their employees. Fred Smith (FedEx) inspired his organization by setting a tone where all his employees felt they could share in the success of the company.

He stated, “One of the biggest principles is that you’ve got to take action. Most large organizations reach a static point. They cannot take any action, because there are all types of barriers to doing so. There are institutionalized barriers that weren’t there when the company was considerably smaller. What changes is your knowledge and your appreciation of how to deal with those institutional barriers, to eliminate them or use them to your advantage in achieving those changes. There are myriad number of changes that have to take place in the management style for the company to continue growing.”[3]

“’Andy [Grove][Intel] has always been a teacher – often by example,’ says Ron Whittier, senior vice president in charge of content development… Yet I don’t think he wants to be remembered as a great visionary – but as someone who made things happen and created a great company.’”[4]

All constituencies expect leaders to be fair, just and consistent. Any perception of cronyism and the use of internal politics to develop an advantage for one individual or group generates unintended consequences, as these policies and actions are replicated at lower levels. Yet, for certain types of leaders, potential gains are too tempting not to employ these practices.

Their focus on personal gain, however, becomes transparent to the rest of the organization. This destroys trust and channels of openness and honesty throughout the company. Fredrick Joseph (Drexel Burnham) created a dysfunctional culture when he ignored the unethical practices and securities violations of high-powered Michael Milken, and his creation of the junk bond business. The insider-trader scandals surrounding Milken ultimately led to the largest bankruptcy in Wall Street history at that time.

These actions hamper leaders’ abilities to instill their ideas, beliefs and values in others, and significantly hinder them when communicating sweeping strategies that are needed to move organizations forward. Rather than unite different factions, they splinter any existing unity, as different groups jockey for position. Leaders in this position typically tend to use their authority and power in a repressive rather than productive manner. It saps the company’s available resources and diminishes its productivity.

A notable and well-publicized example of this practice is Al Dunlap (Sunbeam). “In Dunlap’s presence, knees trembled and stomachs churned. Underlings feared the torrential harangue that Dunlap could unleash at any moment. At his worst, he became viciously profane, even violent. Executives said he would throw papers or furniture, bang his hands on his desk, and shout so ferociously that a manager’s hair would be blown back by the stream of air that rushed from Dunlap’s mouth. “Hair spray day” became a code phrase among execs, signifying a potential tantrum.”[5]

My research of some of the poorest performing leaders substantiated that many also made questionable and highly risky financial decisions that placed their companies at risk, and placed the well being of shareholders far above the interests of their customers.

“In the service of a quick buck, he [Al Dunlap – Sunbeam] imposed brutal pressure on honest people, placing their careers, incomes, health insurance, and pensions at stake. He made impossible, irrational demands that were ruinous to the long-term prosperity of companies. The leadership style he practiced was inconsistent with good business, thoughtful management, a strong economy….”[6]

Jon Huntsman (Huntsman Chemical) observed. “People often offer as an excuse for lying, cheating, and fraud that they were pressured into it by high expectations or that “everyone does it.” Some claim that it is the only way they can keep up. Those excuses sound better than the real reasons they choose the improper course: arrogance, power trips, greed, and lack of backbone, all of which are equal-opportunity afflictions.”[7]

The great leaders were committed to others and demanded excellence from all. They forged building blocks of growth and were proactive as they mastered execution of their plans within all levels of their organization.

They demanded accountability on all levels and did not delegate this responsibility. They held themselves equally accountable, and adhered to the same standards as were established for the lowest level employee. This typically appealed to their personal sense of fairness.

“More than anyone, leaders should welcome being held accountable. Nothing builds confidence in a leader more than a willingness to take responsibility for what happens during his watch. One might add that nothing builds a stronger case for holding employees to a high standard than a boss who holds himself to even higher ones.”[8]

These leaders were passionate, and demonstrated a high level of personal drive and resilience. These factors made it possible to build emotional connections with key constituencies, especially needed during difficult periods.

Finally, one of the most notable distinctions of great leaders was found in their restraint and self-control. It inspired confidence in all key constituencies. A key example of this trait was the composure and stature James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) displayed during the Tylenol scare. His actions are attributed to saving that brand and securing the company’s impeccable reputation.

Related:

  1. Legitimacy: The Sole Basis of Leadership
  2. Does Compassion and Empathy Have a Role in Leadership?
  3. Your Commitment to Others Defines You as a Leader

References:

  1. Yeh Raymond T. with Yeh Stephanie H., The Art of Business: In the Footsteps of Giants (Zero Time Publishing, 2004)
  2. Knufken, Drea, 10 Reasons People Hate Carly Fiorina (Business Pundit) June 18, 2008
  3. Hafner, Katie, Fred Smith: The Entrepreneur Redux (Inc. Magazine, June 1, 1984)
  4. Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)
  5. Byrne, John A., Chainsaw (Harper Business, 1999, 2003) p 353-354
  6. Gallagher Bill, Once a Bum, Always a Bum (Niagara Falls Reporter, January 29, 2002)
  7. Huntsman, Jon M., Winners Never Cheat Even in Difficult Times (Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2008) p 35
  8. Giuliani, Rudolph, Leadership (Hyperion, New York, 2002) p 70

 

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
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Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

 

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